Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

MTC Dec 2014 2

More notes and resources:

And for the 2nd year apprentices:


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With the rise of smart phones, tablets and Kindle, have the days of paper and ink passed? The sales figures for print versus e-books suggest not. The following 10 reasons are based on those given by respondents to a survey by book seller FatBrain explaining why they still preferred analogue, supplemented with some other thoughts:

  1. Sheer physicality – the weight, notes, inscriptions, feel of the cover, well-thumbed pages, folded corners, the old shopping list tucked into page 56, the coffee stain on the back and the biscuit crumbs in the middle. ‘There’s no ap for that.’ Matthew Barrett argues in Dear Pastor, Bring your Bible to Church that there is something about the physicality of a real Bible at the front of church that underlines the physicality of our faith in terms of flesh-and-blood humans meeting together, sitting under an ancient unchanging written word, remembering a physical saviour through the physical means of grace – baptism, Lord’s Supper and preaching. He also notes, as others have, that a physical Bible is much better for biblical literacy and getting a sense of context – both at the level of the whole Bible (am I near the beginning of the story in Genesis or somewhere in the middle in the Psalms or towards the end in Hebrews?) and at the level of the particular text and the verses and chapters around it. If I have a three verses visible on my phone I am far more vulnerable to false teaching than if I have my print Bible open and I can see the whole two page spread: I can see not only the verses around but quickly get a rough idea where I am in the book or letter and what happens in the chapter before and after.
  2. Learning – ‘So who studies without Post-its, highlighters and three volumes open at once?’ In their classic, How to Read a Book, the authors discuss in chapter 5 how to ‘Make a book your own’ – which basically means scribbling all over it. Not just the ‘note’ and ‘highlight’ options available on e-book readers but also 1) underlining; 2) vertical line in the margin; 3) star in the margin for the 10 or so key points in the book; 4) numbers in the margin to track the author’s points in an argument; 5) page numbers in the margin to point to other pages which discuss the same topic or clarify an ambiguity; 6) circling key words; 7) writing in the margin questions, objections or a phrase summarising the page; 8) outlining the structure of the book on a blank front page; 9) writing a personal index or reflection on the book on a blank end page. Now someone might argue that all these options exist on their new iPad but surely just using a pencil on a paper book is easier and expresses more strongly your ownership and mastery of the book (back to the physicality point).
  3. Sharing – Unless it was published as a free resource you can’t lend an eBook to friends and loved ones. And when you can it’s probably a pirated copy. This is a particularly relevant issue in our Kenyan context (ironically one of the most pirated books in Kenya has been Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat). Sharing physical books with one another is a great means of discipleship.
  4. Seeing – e-readers are getting better but they still don’t do very well on pictures, maps, diagrams. A well published book with clear text in a nice font with the right amount of space on the page is a work of art.
  5. Re-selling – A hardcopy is yours. You’ve paid for it and if it’s in half decent condition you can re-sell it. For businesses and ministries in Kenya this is an important point.
  6. Collecting – A pastor friend used to talk of ‘book collectors’ – people who, every time there’s a free book available at church or a conference, will snap it up only for it to sit unread on a shelf. That’s sad. Particularly when its a Bible. But building up a book collection is not a bad thing if its a library that you can easily turn to for reference, sermon preparation and lending to others. Sure you can have a ‘library’ on your phone or Kindle but it’s not the same as scanning along a nice shelf of books.
  7. Giving – Buying someone an eBook is a bit impersonal as a present. And if you haven’t got a Visa card its probably not possible anyway. Or it’s a free eBook which isn’t really much of a gift (though it might be a good resource to share). In the Kenyan context gifts are usually pragmatic so we’re not so likely to give books, but why not? It could be best thing you could do for someone’s soul.
  8. Shopping – Buying a book on Kindle takes about 5 seconds which is pretty cool (IF you are lucky enough to have Visa or Mastercard). But even where online shopping is a possibility lots of people (maybe it’s just a UK-thing) actually like poking around for an afternoon in a dusty old bookshop until they find the treasure hidden on the back top shelf.
  9. Smelling – ‘Books smell nice. eBooks don’t. Simple.’
  10. Being seen– With an e-book or smart phone people can’t see easily what you’re reading. All they can see is you’ve got a fancy bit of electronics. Which is a problem (especially on public transport). With a physical book, no-one is likely to want to steal it but they will be able to see what you’re reading. Now we don’t want to be posers, trying to impress people that we’re reading Dostoevsky in Russian or Calvin in Latin. But when it comes to the Bible (as Matthew Barrett points out) it can be a great conversation starter with a non-Christian you’re sitting next to or an encouragement to a fellow believer.

eBooks are a great invention and there are loads of excellent free ones out there (e.g. from DesiringGod or collected by Monergism) that are a great resource to the church (I’m reading some myself at the moment) but let’s have some paper and ink too.

And for quality, affordable, Christ-centred, paper-and-ink books in Kenya check out the iServe Africa Bookstore.

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gideons bible drawer

Short answer: yes.

Longer answer: There are at least three important issues here:

  1. The Word of God versus the World.
  2. Original writings of the prophets and apostles versus existing manuscripts.
  3. Existing manuscripts versus translations.

1. Is the Word of God – every single word – true? Even when the World, our cultures, our hearts, say the opposite? Yes. The simplest proof of this is to look at how Jesus handled the Scriptures (see DeYoung’s talk below). Obviously we need to be sensitive to metaphors and poetry and sarcasm and personal style and all the diversity of normal human language that you see in the Bible but at the end of the day it comes down to whether these are (all) precisely the words that God wanted to have written down. This is the clearest and most basic point at which liberalism attacks the Faith – we are told that ‘the Bible writers were culturally conditioned’ or that ‘inerrancy is a modern idea made up by fundamentalists’ – but the question at stake is the nature of Christ himself. Was he culturally conditioned? Did he get things wrong? Was/is he not God? Is God a bad communicator?

Let us watch out for a coming wave of liberalism. Or perhaps more subtly a shift towards a quiet functional liberalism – not intellectually-thought-out liberalism – more just skipping over difficult passages, not preaching any more form certain bits of the Bible that no longer fit with our 21st century culture or our personal life choices.

2. But what do we mean by ‘every single word’? Traditionally inerrancy has been understood in relation to the original manuscripts – sometimes called the ‘autographs’ – the first version in ink and papyrus. But no original manuscripts actually exist. Which is not surprising since they were written on perishable materials 2000 years ago or more. There are no original manuscripts for other ancient works of that period either. So do we have a problem? Has the text of the Bible been corrupted over time like a giant game of Chinese whispers?

Daniel Wallace brilliantly addresses these issues in “Is what we have now what they wrote then?” (available in slightly different forms as audio, text or video). It’s very helpful stuff from a worldclass NT Greek scholar and solid evangelical. Worth reading/listening/watching it all but what I found most helpful was his pointing out that it is not really like Chinese whispers as we normally play it at all. This is Chinese whispers where you don’t whisper you write it down and very carefully the next person copies. And there is not just one line of people, there are multiple lines going out like the branches of a tree. And those at the end of the line can compare not only the text that has come out the end of each branch/line but also plenty of texts from various points along a number of the branches, going back in some cases to texts only two or three removed from the original. Isn’t that great! We can reconstruct the original text with an incredibly high degree of accuracy. We can have great confidence that what we have now is what they wrote then.

3. But most of us are not great at reading Greek and Hebrew. And that’s fine. The Bible itself is very happy about it being translated (see Nehemiah 8). Before the incarnation the Scriptures had already been translated into Greek – a world language in preparation for a world mission. For Islam there is only one holy language but the God of the Bible wants the good news preached in every tongue under heaven (see Acts 2). The (Jewish) apostles often quoted from Greek version(s) of the Scriptures as they preached and wrote letters to the new churches.

The tricky issue is that there have been, from the earliest days until today, different types of translation ranging from those that are more word-for-word through to those that seek to communicate the sense while being quite relaxed about choice of language and idioms. The word-for-word translations are emphasising faithfulness and closeness to the original text but tend to be harder work to read. The dynamic equivalence translations at the other end emphasise communication – they are very easy to read but a few steps removed from the original. Other versions sit somewhere in the middle, trying to find the optimal balance between faithfulness and communication.

spectrum bible translations

On one hand we might argue that it is the meaning/ideas of God’s Word that are most important and that is what we should translate (the dynamic equivalence view). On the other hand it’s important to recognise that those at the more dynamic/paraphrased end of the spectrum (The Message etc.) are making a lot of interpretative decisions for you. In some ways they are more like reading a commentary or a devotional on the text. That’s fine so long as you know that’s what it is. Always be suspicious if a preacher puts a huge amount of weight on a turn of phrase that he found in The Message. The more word-for-word versions have tried to make as few interpretative decisions as possible, leaving us the reader to decide (with God’s help) what the text means. So while a more dynamic, looser version can be very helpful if you want to read through big chunks at a sitting, a more formal, tighter version (e.g. ESV) will be safest if you are preparing for a sermon. The NIV is a good compromise for everyday use (cf. the recent Neno Kiswahili version from Biblica which works on a similar translation philosophy to the NIV).

It’s a bit more complicated than this spectrum diagram suggests though. Sometimes the ESV does actually make interpretative decisions and doesn’t consistently translate  a Greek word with the same English one. And friends who know Hebrew well point out that the NIV sometimes does a better job of rendering an OT verse than the ESV (e.g. Hosea 11:12). If you want to follow up some of these translation issues see the references below. The bottom line is that basically most of the mainstream contemporary versions are fine. They are not a demonic conspiracy to corrupt the Word of God. They are the product of groups of godly translators doing their best to translate the best manuscripts into a faithful readable version. A good preacher who has done his homework well and knows the big point of the passage and is trying to communicate that big idea will be able to preach from any Bible he’s handed.

Don’t rip up your NIV. Read it. Enjoy it. Live it.


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Just a few more resources and links from the recent ministry training:

P.S. You can now find the iServe Africa Twitter stream on this blog – look down on the right hand side. Happy Tweeting…

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Doctrine of Scripture 2014

Highlights from the first full day of ministry training course for the new apprentices @ the new and upgraded Halfway House, Sigona. With particular thanks to Harrison, Fidel, Mercy and Christine. If I knew how to use Twitter these would be tweets…

The battle for the mind is not to set your hope fully on your dreams but on real events – Cross & Coming (1 Pet 1:13-21) #GospelReality

You can believe the Bible is authoritative and not be evangelical… if you put other sources of authority on the same level. #SolaScriptura

We don’t worship the Bible. The Bible is a witness. To Jesus. (John 5)

It was written *for* you not *to* you. (Rom 15:4; 1 Pet 1:12)

Fear is part and parcel of ministry. It’s v natural when ur dealing with the Word & people. <– maybe Timothy was not so unusual (2Tim 1:7)

All the power of God, his glorious might, is there to strengthen us… for endurance, patience and suffering (Col. 1:11; 2 Tim 1:8)

What went wrong btwn the East Africa Revival and panda mbegu. A failure to guard the gospel.

The saving gospel is what happened 2000 years ago (1 Cor 151-11; John 20:10-31) not what happened 2 years ago

so a story of God’s work in my life *even when it is Christ-exalting* is not the right foundation 4 anyone’s faith. #SubtleDanger

Hire Character. Train Skill. (Peter Schutz)

Servant: faithful, reliable, teachable, available, motivated

colouring, collections, snacks, singing… The ever-present need for Acts 6:1-7 in children’s ministry

Teaching children takes more preparation than teaching adults. Without it you’ll either communicate nothing or lies #LetThemCome

The most important, most foundational thing children need to know is that they are children of Adam #LetThemCome


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The benefit of distance

As the Mpeketoni attacks were initially reported and in the days afterwards I was struck by the same thought that I had in the midst of the Westgate attack.

Sometimes those attacking the reliability of the New Testament documents pour scorn on the fact that they were written at least thirty years after the event.

But as I read the hour by hour and minute by minute updates of the recent attacks, the conflicting reports in online newspaper and social media sources, listened to the conflicting statements and analyses of politicians and pundits, heard of crazy rumours and SMSs flying around I realised that it may well take 30 years for the truth to come out.

An analysis at a distance, cross-checking all the living witnesses and written evidence is far more likely to give an accurate picture than one posted on Facebook or Twitter in the heat of the battle.

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

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Thanking God for another good day in a warm and sticky Kisumu, listening carefully to the Word together. Particular highlights for me:

  • Fidel on Zephaniah 2 – “Perhaps you may be hidden” – as chicks under the hen’s wings – on the day of wrath.
  • A brother pointing out to me the danger of a Judges 2:10 generation emerging – people who have never been taught the gospel because it has been assumed in their churches – who  neither know the LORD nor what he has done for them. What really struck me from this was the parallel between the gospel for the ancient Israelites (what God had done in the Exodus long before any of them were born) and the gospel for us (what God has done in the New Exodus long before any of us were born) – i.e. a historical gospel.
  • Sammy challenging us to listen with trembling (Isa. 66:2) to the Word and let it set the agenda, rather than just using it to serve our agenda – the Word is the Master.
  • Fidel on Spirit-filled preaching – esp. Acts 10:44 – ‘What is the content of our preaching? Is our rhema-ing full of the logos word?’
  • Rogers Atwebembeire (of ACFAR) on Genesis 22 – superb exposition, heart burning as he showed us parallels between Isaac and Christ – the only beloved son, carrying the wood, trusting his father, willing to be sacrificed, delivered on the 3rd day.

“Where is the Lamb?” As I looked at that question my eyes were opened and I suddenly saw all of biblical theology through that verse – Isaiah 53, all the prophets, the whole Old Testament, looking for the Lamb who was to come, until one day John the Baptist says, “Behold, the Lamb”  (Rodgers on Gen. 22:7)


And a couple of links for hearing the Word in audio:

  • Whole Bible is various English translations – from Theo Vision / Bible.is – here
  • At least portions of Scripture in a fantastic array of different languages including 83 within Kenya alone – assembled by Global Recordings Network – here

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History wars

A Christian missionary gave a Bible to an Indian Hindu intellectual. After he had read it, the man said: ‘I thought you said this was a religious book? As far as I can see it is not about religion. It is a particular interpretation of history’. So, in his own terms of ritual, etc., this man did not recognise Christianity as a religion. (John Benton, Christianity in a PC World)

Very good observation.

In the UK throughout much of 2013 a war was raging in the letters pages of the newspapers over a new history curriculum proposed by Education Secretary Michael Gove. Just Google history curriculum gove and you’ll find a ton of strongly worded articles on both sides of the argument. Who cares? Well it raised very important issues which I think are very relevant to how we read the Bible – that is if we recognise, as the Hindu intellectual recognised, that the Bible is all about history.

  1. One of Gove’s concerns was that huge number of children leave British secondary schools with no knowledge of key events and people in British and world history. They could not put the Roman, Egyptian and Greek empires in the correct order. They would have very little idea who Winston Churchill was or whether he came before or after Elizabeth I. They know virtually nothing about the English Civil War or even that there was one. (I suspect most Kenyan 8-4-4 students know far more British history than their British counterparts.) What Gove wanted was for children to get a sense of the “narrative arc” of history, the key turning points and phases from the Stone Age, through the invasions, wars and revolutions, to the present. Surely the same argument could be made even stronger for the Bible. We need to know the narrative arc. We need to be able to put David, Melchizedek, Nehemiah and Jacob in the right order. We need to know about the key turning points and phases and the shape of the whole story.
  2. There is also the issue of style of teaching. The history wars are partly between an old-fashioned teacher-led, didactic model and a newer (1970s) child-led, inductive approach. The first is usually ridiculed as boring rote learning and the latter seen as exciting and engaging. While it’s true old fashioned history teaching was often boring, as a number of commentators have pointed out, the best history teachers are those who can tell the stories. That is what is captivating and engaging. Hearing the great sweep of history and the stranger-than-fiction narratives of kings and explorers, plagues and wars, betrayals and reversals, tragedies and triumphs. And again the same case can be made even stronger for the Bible. There’s a place, a very important place, for inductive Bible reading and personal investigation but there’s also an important place for from-the-front preaching and teaching and storytelling. Half the Bible is narrative, engrossing, brilliantly written, shocking, hilarious and gripping narratives, and the whole thing is a story, the greatest story ever told. Let’s preach the story.
  3. Then there is a deeper issue in the debate. It’s a contrast between the “Imagine you’re a Viking” approach and the “Let’s learn about the Vikings” approach. In the first (the approach that’s been popular in the UK since the late 1960s) it’s about imagination and role-play and immediacy and empathy rather than the ‘nasty old fashioned focus on dusty facts and distant names and dates’. Empathy and imagination are important but the newer approach, at the end, makes history all about me. I’m not genuinely interested in the people in the past in their own right, I just want to jump into their shoes and play a computer game simulation. In the process I learn virtually nothing about history and reinforce the tremendous conceit that everyone thinks like me and I am the most important person not only now but throughout world history. Again, notice the relevance this has to Bible reading. Do I respect the fact that King David was a real historical person who is not me? Or do I jump straight into his shoes and start playing Goliath Battlefield 4? Is the Bible all about me or all about… Jesus?

More on the History Wars: here (Simon Jenkins) and here (Matthew Hunter)

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There’s a new site for PTW Rwanda – do check it out here and follow them. They’ve also got a great video out (see below). Some of the brilliant quotes:

…this Book talks of another kind of death which is even more tragic than this one… because it goes unnoticed. A whole nation can die smoothly.

There is no food in the church. People are hungry for the true gospel.

PTW is a family where we come and we really get changed by the Word of God.

The conviction that we have is that the Bible is enough.

Amen, Amen and Amen.

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I recently read an article critiquing one of the so-called ‘hypergrace’ preachers. It doesn’t really matter who it was. I don’t really want to get involved in defending or attacking the particular guy. The comment thread below the critique article was about a mile long as often happens when someone attacks a big name preacher – it all gets quite emotive. So I’ll call the preacher ‘X’ below. What I was interested in was the arguments of the article writer. He makes about 7 points and I thought it might be worth interacting with them in a few blog posts as they raise lots of important issues:

1.  X Makes Blanket Statements and Tries to Fit All Scripture Within His System

‘Blanket statements’ is a bit misleading – as the article writer explains it, P is not really coming up with his own blanket statements so much as privileging one part of Scripture (Paul’s letters) over against another (John’s letters). This is a fair criticism in the sense that we should be very careful to look at the whole testimony of Scripture and not teach one part so that it contradicts another part. But at the same time we’ve got to be honest that we all privilege some parts of Scripture above others. We have our favourite verses which act as something of a control over how we look at the whole Bible. And maybe that is a good thing so long as the verses that we think are key really are key.

  • So for example, when there are ‘whoever’/‘no one’/‘every’/‘no’/‘never’ statements like John 3:16; 10:29; 14:6; Romans 8:1, particularly when they come at key points in the argument of the book or letter in question and when the genre and context indicates this is not hyperbole or just a proverbial general truth or just for that point in the storyline or qualified in some way, then they are ‘blanket statements’. Everything else you read in the Bible has to be in harmony with them.
  • In particular there are a number of places where the Bible seems to be giving us pretty ‘blanket statements’ about the Bible itself. We’ve surely got to pay special attention to those bits. I’m thinking of Luke 24, John 5, 2 Tim. 3 and 1 Peter 1. They are going to affect the way we approach the whole Bible – looking for Christ crucified and how we can have life in him.
  • While all Scripture is God breathed it is quite obvious that it is uneven in importance and significance. So for example, Isaiah 53 is one of the highest summits in the mountain range of Scripture. (1) It has a key role in the book of Isaiah itself – just contrast it with chapter 1 (the deep problem of sin (v2-4), the metaphor of the bruised and battered man (v5-6), the question of how sins will be made white as snow (v18) ; (2) it has a key role in the OT, as the answer to Gen. 3:15 and the great hanging question of how God can be just (Gen. 18:25) and the justifier of the ungodly (Gen. 15:6) and in bringing together the rich themes of sacrifice, messiah, innocent suffering and peace; (3) in the NT, Isaiah 53 is quoted or alluded to than any other OT passage.
  • Of course if I just a rip a verse (e.g. 2 Sam. 22:26 NIV) out of context and forget about Christ and make that my lens for the Bible and the Christian life then it’s going to be a disaster. But if it really is a key verse then fair enough.

What about the idea of a ‘system’ though? “X Tries to Fit All Scripture Within His System”. X is not just privileging some Scripture he has got a System. This pits ‘good Scripture’ against ‘nasty System’. But again, we’ve got to be honest, we all come to the Bible with a theology or ‘framework’ or ‘system’ more or less clearly in our heads. If we come to the Bible as ‘God’s Word’ rather than a random collection of ancient writings, if we know that Jesus is God and that the Three are One etc. that is a theological system. And that’s not a bad thing in itself. In a very helpful article, ‘Theology & Bible Reading’ J.I. Packer argues that theology, among other things, a) shows us how to approach the Bible; b) sets out the substance and heart of the Bible; c) forearms us against heretical understandings of the Bible. The key thing is whether your theology has come from the Bible and is constantly being reshaped and reformed by the Bible.

theology as an activity, properly understood, is Bible reading as it ought to be, and Bible reading, properly understood, is theology as it out to be. (Packer, ‘Theology & Bible Reading’, p. 74)

If we pretend we have no system and just ‘read the Bible as it is’ we are deceiving ourselves. If I say, ‘I just open the Bible, read a verse, and the Spirit applies it to me’ – that is a system and one that can get you into a whole lot of trouble and leave you open to all manner of crazy interpretation. Furthermore, if I’m not aware I have a system I inevitably pour it into every text I read. In contrast, if you know you have a system that self-awareness means you can catch yourself pouring your framework into a text and say to yourself, hang on a minute maybe this text needs to challenge my framework.

Let’s be honest about where we’re coming from, let’s read through big chunks of the Bible, let’s listen to one another (the Spirit is given to the church not just me personally) and let’s think carefully how to read the Bible as Jesus would have us read it.

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